We meet at a momentous time, not just for the people of Afghanistan but also for our wider region. The term ‘Heart of Asia’ should not be taken lightly, for what happens in Afghanistan will surely affect the larger region. So, the stakes in our discussions may be high, but its consequences are no less significant. A stable, sovereign and peaceful Afghanistan is truly the basis for peace and progress in our region. Ensuring that it is free of terrorism, violent extremism and drug and criminal syndicates is, therefore, a collective imperative.
However, the situation in Afghanistan continues to give cause for grave concern. Violence and bloodshed are daily realities and the conflict itself has shown little sign of abatement, whatever may be the promises. The last few months have also witnessed an escalation in targeted killings of civil society. 2020 sadly marked a 45 percent increase in civilian casualties in Afghanistan over 2019. 2021 does not look very much better. The continued involvement of foreign fighters in Afghanistan is particularly disturbing. Heart of Asia members and supporting countries should, therefore, make it a priority to press for an immediate reduction in violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.
For a durable peace in Afghanistan, what we need is a genuine ‘double peace’, that is, peace within Afghanistan and peace around Afghanistan. It requires harmonizing the interests of all, both within and around that country. India has been supportive of all the efforts being made to accelerate the dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban, including intra-Afghan negotiations. We attended the inaugural virtual session of the Doha talks. If the peace process is to be successful, then it is necessary to ensure that the negotiating parties continue to engage in good faith, with a serious commitment towards reaching a political solution.
India welcomes any move towards a genuine political settlement and a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire in Afghanistan. We appreciate the international recognition of foundational principles that will determine their contours. We support a regional process to be convened under the aegis of the United Nations. UN stewardship would help to take into account all relevant UN resolutions and improve the odds for a lasting outcome.
A notable gain of the last two decades is the democratic framework under which elections were held through universal suffrage. So too are Afghanistan's sovereignty in domestic and foreign policy and protection of the rights of women, children and minorities and for all Afghan citizens to live freely and without fear. These achievements must be protected and built upon, even as Afghanistan moves forward.
India remains committed to steadfastly supporting Afghanistan during this transition. Our development partnership of USD 3 billion, including more than 550 Community Development Projects covering all 34 provinces, is aimed at making Afghanistan a self-sustaining nation. The promise of more drinking water to Kabul is the latest in that list.
As the lead country on Trade, Commerce and Investment CBMs under the HoA-IP, India will continue to work on improving Afghanistan’s connectivity with the outside world. Projects like the Chahhabar Port in Iran and the dedicated Air Freight Corridor between the cities of India and Afghanistan are part of our efforts. I am glad to note the keen interest of our friends from Central Asia to be a part of these initiatives.
We are at a critical juncture and decisions we make will determine the future of both Afghanistan and Asia. Today, we are striving for a more inclusive Afghanistan that can overcome decades of conflict. But that will happen only if we stay true to principles that Heart of Asia has long embodied. Collective success may not be easy but the alternative is only collective failure. Let us, therefore, deliberate and decide with full awareness and great responsibility. For each one of us will be significantly impacted by the outcome.